How Large Format Metal AM Saves Cost and Improves Performance
Isaac Maw posted on January 17, 2020 |
How to find ideal applications for large-format electron beam metal 3D printing.

Sciaky, Inc. has sponsored this post.

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

Among all the metal additive manufacturing technologies, including those that use powders, foils or wire materials, most often wire deposition techniques are fastest in terms of deposition rate by weight. This makes these processes ideal for bulky parts that don’t require fine detail. These large parts are also an ideal fit for large-scale additive, especially when the alternative is subtractive processes such as machining and turning. Because material is deposited instead of being cut away, far less stock is required to make the part, and when expensive or difficult to machine materials are used, this can create a significant cost saving.

In the right application, large format additive outperforms traditional processes. “If you have a CNC process that can be done faster than an additive process, then that's not the right use case for additive,” said John O’Hara, global sales manager at Sciaky.

Sciaky’s Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) is one such process. Using a focused beam of electrons and a closed-loop control system, which uses real-time imaging, Sciaky machines create a controlled meltpool of material, which builds up parts with consistent layer adhesion and metallurgical properties. But which industries are taking advantage of these unique capabilities?

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)
(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

“What EBAM is good at is printing large metal parts. This includes parts weighing five to 10 pounds and up, with a physical size of something larger than a laptop. That part size is considered for some of the other AM technologies, but that's where EBAM really shines,” O’Hara said.

Where and How EBAM Surpasses Traditional Manufacturing Techniques      

Pressure Vessels and Fuel Tanks

 (Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

For example, EBAM has been successfully used in the aerospace industry for the production of large pressure vessels. Lockheed Martin used EBAM to produce fuel tanks for a satellite system.

“The straight section of a tank is a cylinder. You can make that out of rolled sheet metal,” said O’Hara. “But the dome at the top and the bottom is not a trivial piece of the tank to make. It’s very difficult to roll a flat piece of metal into a cylindrical dome, especially some of the alloys that they use in that industry. It requires very expensive, high temperature forming processes, or machining from a billet. We are talking about tanks that are anywhere from a half a meter to as wide as three meters.”

Using EBAM, the dome can be printed on its own, or the entire tank can be printed in one piece. “Two of the most important advantages that Additive Manufacturing offers in just about any case is going to be a reduction in the amount of material required to make the part, as well as a reduction in the amount of processing that it takes to get a given amount of metal, to make that into the final shape,” explained O’Hara. “In most manufacturing processes, that's going to be forming, rolling or some other process like that to work it into its final shape.”

There is a governing body that regulates the production of pressure vessels, like those created with Sciaky’s EBAM technology. This means that manufacturers looking to exploit this improved method of production are eager to see EBAM written into the code, says O’Hara.

“It can take a lot of work to be specified into the Pressure Vessel and Boiler Code. Governing bodies have a long history, very stringent specifications, and fabrication guidelines. That's one of the initiatives that we have going on right now. Lining up interested end-users and fabricators of these vessels. When the end users, the fabricators, the process people, like us, and the committee members show them the case that it has a good value to that industry, that’s how we get EBAM certified. It will also allow users to make the same size tank with a higher-performing metal so that tank lasts longer in service and won't corrode as quickly.”

International Submarine Titanium Ballast tank 3D printed with Sciaky's EBAM technology. (Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)
International Submarine Titanium Ballast tank 3D printed with Sciaky's EBAM technology. (Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

Beyond Pressure Vessels and Fuel Tanks

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

Of course, besides pressure vessels and tanks, many other large metal parts can be more effectively manufactured by EBAM than by traditional processes. According to O’Hara, countless examples can be found in chemical processing, food processing and power generation, such as in nuclear power facilities.

These industries have a need for large metal structures such as augers, paddles and large fittings. These parts are expensive to manufacture by traditional means, such as fabrication and machining. While stainless steel is a very common material for these parts, more expensive specialty alloys are sometimes required. This especially is the sweet spot where additive manufacturing can save manufacturers money and improve performance.

“They perform well, but they still have a finite life. However, the cost-efficiency of EBAM can enable a user, in an affordable range, to make it out of a much more effective but high-performing metal.”

EBAM in Tool and Die

The tool and die industry is also finding opportunities to save cost and produce better parts through large-format additive. Cutting large injection molds is time consuming and costly and requires massive machine tools, as well as material and cutting tool costs.

With additive, post-process machining is still necessary to finish surfaces, but the advantages of additive are significant. For example, die repair and repurposing can be done to extend the life of a tool.

(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)
(Image courtesy of Sciaky, Inc.)

How to Start Taking Advantage of Large Format AM

We asked O’Hara how early adopters of EBAM have been using the technology to save cost, save material and make higher performance parts.

“To put yourself ahead of the pack in AM adoption, find a non-code application. We're always happy to help users find these applications where the ASME code does not govern how to design the part,” he explained.

“For example, in the chemical processing industry, the mixers, augers, turbines and panels are complex metal shapes which would benefit from being made out of more expensive high-performing alloys. However, their applications are not as critical, where a failure in the part does not cause a catastrophic situation. In a mixer, if a paddle breaks off, everything will be relatively okay—at least compared to a pressure vessel failure.”

These non-critical, relatively inexpensive and relatively simple parts are typically the first qualified components made via large format AM processes, such as Sciaky’s Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM). “According to many of our users, the smart way to go is to adopt something low risk early, and build up to more risky, more expensive parts later. It is a good idea to move now, to develop the skills and expertise to use AM effectively. The sooner you start with the simple parts, the sooner you can make more complex, high-value parts.”

To find out more about how large-format AM is disrupting traditional manufacturing processes to make large metal parts better and more cost-effectively, visit Sciaky.

In addition, make sure to check out the new EBAM “Quick Take” video. It is a quick, insightful introduction to Sciaky’s EBAM technology, which runs under one minute in length.  

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